Surfski Safety | Rob Mousley

We were paddling slowly upwind into a howling northwester, about 2km from Hout Bay beach when my paddling partner turned to me, shouted, “I’m exhausted!” and fell off his surfski. As he made a number of efforts to remount, he was drifting fast downwind, towards the cliffs under Chapman’s Peak and I realized that the situation was deteriorating rapidly. I decided that whatever happened, I wanted people to know that we were in trouble, and I took my pencil flares out of my PFD pocket and fired all six, one after the other…

‘Tis the Season to go Downwind, Tra la la la…
Here in Cape Town, where I live, the summer southeasters have arrived, and the Miller’s Run taxi is hauling multiple bus-loads of happy paddlers each day from Fish Hoek to Miller’s Point each day to do the iconic 12km route.

And inevitably, as the first few close calls happen, the discussions about safety and best practices start up on the WhatsApp groups and other social media…

What should you use, how can you keep yourself safe when paddling in weather that non-paddlers regard as dangerous?

The basics: be fit and competent
Obviously, you don’t want to be in an emergency situation in the first place and the best way to avoid it is to have basic paddling competence, which includes:

The brace stroke. Clearly you have to be completely comfortable with bracing – but it amazes me how many people only brace on one side. Usually people feel more confident bracing on the opposite side to their grip hand. I’m right handed and have a right-hand feather on my paddle so it’s easier to brace on the left. But if you’re working right on the waves, you should be bracing on the right – and if you persist on bracing on left, you’ll feel unstable. Practice bracing on both sides! (It may help to reduce the feather angle – some coaches, like Oscar Chalupsky, teach beginners to use zero angle on their paddles because they say that it helps with bracing on both sides.)
The remount! There are plenty of YouTube videos that show the correct bum-first technique, which is the easiest remount – but you need to practice it, ideally in rough conditions. Get used to remounting from both sides! If you’re not entirely confident in your remount, you shouldn’t go offshore!
Fitness. It’s dangerous to be stopped or moving slowly in breaking waves, because without speed, your ski will slew around in a broach and the white water will knock you off the boat. You have to be fit enough to accelerate the ski onto the runs.

Avoiding Equipment Failure
At the beginning of the season, check your surfski…

KEEP READING from page 38 in Issue 6 of 2018:


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